'Not snow, no, nor rain, nor heat, nor night keeps them from accomplishing their appointed courses with all speed," according to Herodotus, who became a famous wise man for saying things like that.

That quote, from around 400 B.C., has become the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service. But it may be not so relevant today.

Centuries ago, messengers were usually skinny, spry young fellows who worked for the king. They didn't have a union either.

Today, the best known messengers in America are the 235,000 city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service. They are organized, as in AFL-CIO. And unhappy. And threatening, sort of, to maybe not be so dependable in the very near future unless their tightwad (their term) employer loosens up.

If they failed to show up for work or took baby steps en route, mail delivery to your home or office could suffer big time.

After months of negotiating with the Postal Service, the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers is warning of "dire consequences" unless the union's proposals are met. Chief among them, an upgrade of letter carriers from Level 5 to Level 6 of the postal pay scale. It is also asking for annual pay raises, continuation of cost-of-living adjustments and a 4-year contract.

Today, most letter carriers are at level 5, which pays $27,219 to $37,831 per year. Only a handful are at Level 6, which pays $28,793 to $38,812.

Union President Vincent Sombrotto said the "automated environment" of the Postal Service plus higher standards have increased the physical and mental demands on letter carriers. At the same time, he says the changing nature of the service is threatening "inside jobs" in the Postal Service, held by postal clerks "with obsolescence or being de-skilled." For years the two crafts--clerks and carriers--have been "linked" with most in the Level 5 pay category.

Sombrotto made the union members' case for an upgrade--and a breaking of the link from their fellow clerks, represented by the American Postal Workers Union--last week before a three-member arbitration panel. APWU reached a new contract with the Postal Service, but the Letter Carriers refused--sending the issue to arbitration.

Sombrotto, one of the leaders in the successful 1970 postal strike, predicted that if the unions proposal is rejected, things could get ugly. He told the arbitrators that many of his members are churchgoers and family-oriented "but they aren't saints. . . . They can only be pushed so far. . . . Value them, and they will reciprocate and produce. . . . Devalue them . . . and you will pay a price."

At this point one doesn't know whether to go out and buy stock in an e-mail company or mail very, very early for Christmas.

Departure

Melba Kundly has retired from the Navy after almost 36 years of service. Most of her career as an analyst was spent at the Navy Annex in Arlington. She got lots of praise from colleagues, but the best comment comes from Kundly's daughter, Nancy Jones, who says of her mother: "She is well-known and well-liked and has the incredible distinction (to me) of never having had an appraisal of less than 'outstanding' in all her years of service. Outstanding!

Smokey's 55th

A reader from Ashburn, Va., says that the U.S. Forest Service's Smokey Bear celebrated his 55th birthday on Aug. 9. The original Smokey--who became a symbol of conservation--was an bear cub found orphaned in a forest fire.

Because Smokey is a sort of fed, our Ashburn reader asks: "Do you know of any retirement plans in Smokey's future? If so, what would his benefits be like? Having spent his entire life in federal service, I'm sure he's under the civil service retirement system . . . He's probably a relatively high civil service grade--for a bear anyway."

People under the Civil Service Retirement System program can retire at age 55 after 30 years of service. But bears that are age 55 with 55 years of service fall into another category. Department of Agriculture officials say that to the best of their knowledge, Smokey has never attended a pre-retirement seminar.

Supervisor/Managers Overtime

Overtime pay rates for federal managers and supervisors would be boosted under legislation sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). The bill, cosponsored by Reps. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) and Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) would raise the cap for supervisory-managerial overtime pay to the first step of Grade 12. The cap is now at the rate for someone in the first step of GS 10.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com

Tuesday, Aug. 10, 1999